58. Varnikai Botanical - Zoological Reserve

Two chains of moraine hills that formed during the East Lithuanian (Pomeranian) phase of the Baltic stage of the ice age cross the northern part of the territory in an east-west direction. A bog formed in the bed of the large melted glacier after the ice age.

At present the northern part of the reserve is covered by an old naturally formed mixed woodland (100-130 years old) which comprises oak pine groves and oak fir groves. On the edges of the wood grow young groves of fir and pine that were planted 20-50 years ago. Forest land occupies most of the territory (450 ha) which includes bogs and many open spaces that increase the territory’s biotope variety. Almost all the woodland here is state-owned.

In the southern part of the reserve there is the expansive 207 ha Ilgelis bog which is fed by four tiny lakes: Baluošas, Piliškės, Bevardis and Ilgelis. These are the remains of one great lake. To the north of Lake Ilgelis lies the dried out Dumblė Lake (now bog land). All the small lakes in Varnikai Reserve are fed by the surrounding marshland. The bog is almost one metre higher than the water level of Bernardinų (Luka) Lake and the water flowing out of the marsh is directed in irrigation drains to Lake Bernardinų and so the dried out edges of the marsh are overgrown with bushes and the marsh’s highland is covered in birch and pine. The largest organic covering here is 10 m thick and the thickness of the average organic sediments is between two and four metres. These comprise various types of peat and loam. A large part of the bog (around 70 percent) is low marsh and the rest is high marsh which is girt by small areas of intermediate bog.

The reserve has 600 known types of higher flora of which 16 have been entered in the Lithuanian Red Book, 118 types of moss (four of them are protected and three have been found in Lithuania for the first time), 204 species of lichen (four are protected) and in the territory’s lakes there are 441 taxons of plankton weed. The fauna has not been researched in depth but rare beetles and birds have been noted.

The reserve is used for educational recreation – a tourist track has been built to allow visitors to see the most beautiful areas while protecting nature from the effects of uncontrolled visits.

The edges of the marsh and woodland are used for restricted agriculture (haymaking and pasture) and commercial/farming activity in the woods is kept to a minimum. Berries and mushrooms are picked in the reserve (the upper marsh is rich in cranberries, the woods in blueberries and wild strawberries).

A negative impact on preserving the treasures here is made by intensive human visits (the reserve lies only three-four kilometres away from the boundaries of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania) and by extensive use of Lake Skaistis for leisure activities which is connected with the arrival of alien species of flora which are difficult to control.

Recently Ilgelis Marsh has been drying out. This is connected with various changes in climate (underground waters are drying up throughout Lithuania).

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